Rumours are beginning to swirl around the RFU corridors (and have now been confirmed) that Stuart Lancaster will be given the reigns as England Head coach on a permanent basis after impressing as interim coach during the Six Nations. The selection process had been narrowed down to two suitable candidates; Lancaster himself and former South Africa and Italy Coach Nick Mallett. Both had been interviewed last week, but it appears Lancaster’s enthusiasm won over and was enough to convince new RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie (and the advisory panel of Sir Ian McGeechan, Richard Hill, Rob Andrew and Conor O’Shea) that he deserved his crack at International Rugby. Nick Mallett has supposedly been informed of the decision this morning and it just needs to be formally ratified at an RFU Board Meeting on Thursday.
Assembling a Coaching Team
Lancaster’s first job in hand will be to assemble a coaching team to take England though to the World Cup in 2015. Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell were his assistants during the Six Nations and performed terrifically. However, although Rowntree’s position as assistant is assured, Farrell’s club Saracens will most likely have to be paid a hefty compensation fee in order for England to secure his services. If an agreement cannot be made, Lancaster may look to another man who has reportedly been interested; Wayne Smith. Smith is currently an assistant at the Waikato Chiefs after his contract with the All Blacks expired following World Cup Victory. Another route could see both employed.
Summer Tour to South Africa
England takes on South Africa away from home in the summer. If Lancaster is to prove that the right decision was made, his cohorts will have to improve even more. The England team has seen a huge turnaround since the World Cup debacle and Lancaster has dealt with the fallout with humility and class. This England side is far more respected on a personal level and definitely more loved. He now needs to show the other strings to his bow. Enthusiasm and team spirit will not be enough against the Springboks at altitude. His technical knowledge will need to be conveyed to the squad to help bring more structure to their play. England showed improved confidence and willingness to attack during the Six Nations, but many of England’s tries came through the counter-attack. If England are to rise to the top, they need to break down teams through pressure and not live off the oppositions mistakes. The implementation of further structures to help in this regard would prove that he belongs at rugby’s top table. The addition of Wayne Smith as an Assistant, who is renowned for creativity when it comes to coaching the attack would go a long way to easing this problem.
If the coaching team are balanced, the last Six nations has shown that England have enough quality to have a bright future. Owen Farrell, Ben Morgan, Chris Sharples and Chris Robshaw were all handed their debuts by Lancaster during the tournament and performed with enough verve and confidence to suggest they belong on the International Stage. Other younger players such as Dan Coles and Alex Corbisiero improved dramatically and Manu Tuilagi was a real force. England’s young and already established Internationals will strengthen the side once they either regain their fitness/form (Courtney Lawes, Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs). On the horizon one can also look at Jonathan Joseph of London Irish as a player of real class who might solve the tricky 12/13 combination and current U21 World Player of the Year George Ford as a player who might eventually take the Fly Half role or at least add some depth. Fred Burns of Gloucester also looks like a player England selectors will be keeping their eye on.
Was it the Right Decision?
We will know more once England have got through their tricky summer Tour to South Africa and their usual raft of international during the autumn at Twickenham. It does seem odd that someone like John Kirwan was not viewed as suitable for the job due to his lack of experience when he has considerably more in the International Arena than Stuart Lancaster. However, Lancaster has shown he has vision and has a keen eye as a selector and it was a brave decision to opt for him ahead of Nick Mallett who’s CV was for the most part flawless.
Some may point out that England finished 2nd this year during the Six Nations, but were champions last year. They have a point if you look at it based purely on results. However, the reason for optimism is the difference in potential between the two sides. With the exception of Youngs, Ashton, Foden and Tuilagi, much of last year’s squad were older and supposedly ‘wiser’. Unfortunately though, they were stuck repeating bad habits and much of what went on in New Zealand was pure amateurism. This side’s approach has been far more serious. Misdemeanors will not be tolerated by Lancaster and the results of this more professional approach have been there for all to see. Furthermore, they appear to show a greater level of skill. Lancaster’s side have improved with each game and he will be hoping that their upward curve continues (even if they do learn a few lessons during their tour of South Africa).